Getting Through the Holidays Without a Visit to the ER

Northwestern Medicine
Emergency Medicine and Trauma December 20, 2011

The holiday season is a festive time of year with gift exchanges, decorations, celebrations, eating, and drinking. It’s also a time that emergency rooms across the country experience a spike in visits, often caused by holiday-related accidents. As an emergency medicine physician, I’ve seen firsthand injuries take families away from their festivities and into the hospital.

When preparing for celebrations this holiday season, keep these safety tips in mind:

When decorating the house or tree, take precautions to avoid falls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)* estimates that falls account for 5,800 visits to Emergency Rooms in December and January annually.

  • When hanging ornaments or lights up high, make sure the ladder is secure and balanced.
  • Do not use chairs or furniture in place of a ladder.
  • Have another person nearby to hand you decorations so you aren’t reaching or to steady the base of the ladder to help you maintain balance.
  • When the decorations are in place, tuck away cords or other items that may easily trip someone.  
Holiday decorations can easily start fires if not properly used. House fires can lead to burns and smoke inhalation.
  • Always ensure that live trees are watered; a dry tree is much more likely to burn.
  • Check that strings of light do not have broken cords or loose bulbs, both of which can cause a fire.
  • Be careful to not overload outlets or string too many strands of light together.
  • Only use holiday lights and candles when someone is in the room.
Depression and anxiety are known to increase during the holidays: know and listen to yourself.
  • Do you really need to go down to the mall when you are exhausted and sleep deprived?
  • Don’t forget to take care of yourself while you are trying to take care of others: Remember to exercise or take a break to have coffee with a loved one; whatever it takes to escape the craziness for a little while.
  • If you feel yourself getting anxious (unable to sleep, mind racing, heart palpitations) tell your loved one, stop what you’re doing, and take a break.
  • Check in on your family’s well-being: Check on your elderly friends, especially those who are widows and remember that they have a lifetime of memories that they may be affected by, so ask them about the good memories. Even kids can experience anxiety, so ask them how they’re doing.
When partaking in holiday festivities, be cautious about how much you eat and drink.
  • With buffet style events, food is often sitting out for long periods of time and can cause serious illness if consumed.
  • In the ER, we often see an increased number of patients complaining of stomach pain during the holidays because they overate. While rarely life threatening, people who suffer from chronic gastrointestinal disorders can be at serious risk from over consuming.
  • Eat and drink in moderation, listen to your body, and even go out for a brisk walk prior or after your meal. Even a small amount of exercise can make you digest your food better and have you feeling better.
  • From car accidents to trips and falls and even alcohol poisoning, over consumption of alcohol is the cause of many holiday-related ER visits and is the number one reasons for deaths in young adults. It’s extremely important to moderate how much you drink.
Let’s be honest, the ER is the last place anyone wants to be during the holidays.  These simple tips can hopefully make your holidays ER-free.  From all of us at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Department of Emergency Medicine – Happy Holidays!

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